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What is Lean Six Sigma ?

Lean Six Sigma is a method that relies on a collaborative team effort to improve performance by systematically removing waste[1] and reducing variation. It combines lean manufacturing/lean enterprise and Six Sigma to eliminate the eight kinds of waste (muda): Defects, Over-Production, Waiting, Non-Utilized Talent, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, and Extra-Processing.

Lean Six Sigma not only reduces process defects and waste, but also provides a framework for overall organizational culture change. By introducing Lean Six Sigma, the mindset of employees and managers change to one that focuses on growth and continuous improvement through process optimization.This change in culture and the mindset of an organization maximizes efficiency and increases profitability.

In order to successfully implement Lean Six Sigma, a combination of tools from both lean manufacturing and Six Sigma must be used. ]Some of these tools include kaizen, value-stream mapping, line balancing, and visual management.

Lean Six Sigma is a combination of two popular Continuous Improvement methods—Lean and Six Sigma—that pave the way for operational excellence. These time-tested approaches provide organizations with a clear path to achieving their missions as fast and efficiently as possible.

Getting Started With Lean Six Sigma

Before diving into details, it’s important to clarify the concept of process improvement. Since Lean Six Sigma is a system for analyzing and improving processes we’ll break down those terms first.

What is a Process?

A process is a series of steps involved in building a product or delivering a service. Almost everything we do is a process—tying our shoes, baking a cake, treating a cancer patient, or manufacturing a cell phone.

What is Process Improvement?

Process improvement requires employees to better understand the current state of how a process functions in order to remove the barriers to serving customers. Since each product or service is the result of a process, gaining the skills required to remove waste, rework or inefficiency is critical for the growth of an organization.

Working On a Process vs In a Process

Employees are hired based on their expertise in a given field. Bakers are good at baking and surgeons are good at performing surgery. Professionals are experts at working in a process, but they are not necessarily experts at working on a process. Learning to work on and improve processes requires experience and education in Continuous Improvement. That’s where Lean Six Sigma comes in.

Combining Lean & Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma provides a systematic approach and a combined toolkit to help employees build their problem-solving muscles. Both Lean and Six Sigma are based on the Scientific Method and together they support organizations looking to build a problem-solving culture. This means that “finding a better way” becomes a daily habit.

The Origins of Lean Six Sigma

Lean originated at Toyota in the 40’s and Six Sigma originated at Motorola in the 80’s. Although they’ve been taught as separate methods for many years, the line has blurred and it’s now common to see Lean & Six Sigma teachings combined in order to reap the best of both worlds. Understanding both approaches and accompanying toolkits is extremely valuable when solving problems. It doesn’t matter where a tool comes from—Lean or Six Sigma—as long as it does the job. By combining these methods you have the best shot at applying the right mindset, tactics and tools to solve the problem.

The two methods at a glance
  • Lean uses the PDCA—Plan-Do-Check-Act/Adjust—method and tools like 8 Wastes and 5S to achieve continuous improvement.
  • Six Sigma uses the DMAIC— Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control—method and tools like Control Charts and FMEA to achieve continuous improvement.
What Are the Benefits of Using Lean Six Sigma?

Organizations face rising costs and new challenges every day. Lean Six Sigma provides a competitive advantage in the following ways:

  • Streamlining processes results in Improved customer experience and increased loyalty
  • Developing more efficient process flows drives higher bottom-line results
  • Switching from defect detection - to defect - prevention - reduces costs and removes waste
  • Standardizing processes leads to organizational “nimbleness” and the ability to pivot to everyday challenges
  • Decreasing lead times increases capacity and profitability
  • Engaging employees in the effort improves morale and accelerates people development

Waste is defined by Fujio Cho of Toyota as "anything other than the minimum amount of equipment, materials, parts, space, and workers time, which are absolutely essential to add value to the product."

Different types of waste have been defined:

  • Defects: A defect is a product that is declared unfit for use. This requires the product to either be scrapped or reworked, costing the company time and money. Examples include a product that is scratched during the production process and incorrect assembly of a product due to unclear instruction.
  • Over-Production: Over-production refers to product that is made in excess or made before it is needed. Products should be produced as they are needed following the Just-in-time manufacturing-philosophy in Lean. Examples include creating unnecessary reports and overproduction of a product before a customer has requested it.
  • Waiting: Waiting involves delays in process steps and is split into two different categories: waiting for material and equipment and idle equipment. Examples include waiting for authorization from a superior, waiting for an email response, waiting for material delivery, and slow or faulty equipment.
  • Non-Utilized Talent: Non-Utilized Talent refers to the waste of human potential and skill and is the newest addition to the eight wastes. The main cause of this waste is when management is segregated from employees. When this occurs, employees are not given the opportunity to provide feedback and recommendations to managers in order to improve the process flow and production suffers. Examples include poorly trained employees, lack of incentives for employees, and placing employees in jobs or positions that do not utilize all of their knowledge or skill.
  • Transportation: Transportation is the unnecessary or excessive movement of materials, product, people, equipment, and tools. Transportation adds no value to the product and can even lead to product damage and defects. Examples include moving product between different functional areas and sending overstocked inventory back to an outlet warehouse.
  • Inventory: Inventory refers to an excess in products and materials that aren't yet processed. This is a problem because the product may become obsolete before the customer requires it, storing the inventory costs the company time and money, and the possibility of damage and defects increases over time. Examples include excess finished goods, finished goods that cannot be sold, and broken machines scattered on the manufacturing floor.
  • Motion: Motion is unnecessary movement by people. Excessive motion wastes time and increases the chance of injury. Examples include walking to get tools, reaching for materials, and walking to different parts of the manufacturing floor to complete different tasks.
  • Extra-Processing: Extra-processing is doing more work than is required or necessary to complete a task. Examples include double-entering data, unnecessary steps in production, unnecessary product customization, and using higher precision equipment than necessary.